Legislature will tackle county funding and long term care in summer studies

Child care doesn’t make the cut, but will have an informal task force

By: - March 27, 2023 4:01 pm
The South Dakota House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

The South Dakota House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

The 2023 legislative session ended Monday, but legislators are already preparing and researching issues ahead of the 2024 session.

The Legislature will conduct two summer studies this year focusing on long term care sustainability as well as county funding and mandated services, the Executive Board decided Monday.

The summer studies allow legislators to learn about specific issues and explore solutions ahead of the next session, said Senate President Pro Tempore and Executive Board Vice Chair Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown. 

“We can anticipate what the Legislature is going to need to deal with in the next session and see if we can help people work toward solutions,” Schoenbeck said.

The summer studies will feature a handful of meetings held throughout the summer to further explore the issues. Legislative Research Council staff will analyze data and conduct research to better understand the topics.

The Executive Board, which includes leadership from the House and Senate, whittled the studies down from over 15 proposals to the selected two. Study proposal topics ranged from child care to nuclear power to Native American child welfare to South Dakota’s surface water quality.

State Sens. Lee Schoenbeck, left, R-Watertown, and Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, attend a committee hearing during the 2023 legislative session. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
State Sens. Lee Schoenbeck, left, R-Watertown, and Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, attend a committee hearing during the 2023 legislative session. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Long term care won’t be ‘one size fits all’

Sustainable long term care was a hot topic ahead of the 2023 legislative session, and legislators already planned to establish a long term care summer study before the session began.

Fifteen South Dakota nursing homes have closed over five years, and seven have closed in the last year, according to the South Dakota Health Care Association. That spells trouble as South Dakota faces an aging population and a surge in long term care needs as baby boomers near the end of their lives over the next two decades.

While lawmakers did manage to increase funding for targeted Medicaid providers this session, such as nursing homes, to a 100% reimbursement rate for the year, that doesn’t address the long term needs of the industry.

The summer study will examine the state’s current long term care situation — including demographics, funding, staffing, reimbursement rates and geography — and evaluate potential solutions for affordable care.

Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, and Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, R-Sioux Falls, will serve as chair and vice chair of the study, respectively.

Rehfeldt told reporters at the Republican leadership conference on March 9 that she’s looking forward to exploring different ideas to support the industry as a whole but that “it’s not going to be a ‘one size fits all’ answer.”

“I do think there’s still work to be done. I think that’s something we can all recognize,” Rehfeldt said.

County sustainability could mean state partnerships

The financial sustainability of counties was also an issue discussed during the session, though the suggested solutions — regionalizing jail funding capacity, using state dollars to help with jail construction, allowing counties to charge sales taxes, providing property tax relief through reimbursement checks and more — were struck down.

The summer study will focus on regionalization and consolidation, how the state can partner with counties to make mandated services more affordable, and an analysis of county funding models and revenues, said House Majority Leader Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, in the executive board meeting.

Read more: South Dakota set to scrutinize its approach to court-appointed attorneys 

Sen. Randy Deibert, R-Spearfish, recommended a study of county funding and mandated services, and presented it to the Board through the Senate Local Government Committee.

Sen. Jim Mehlhaff, R-Pierre, appeared as a strong supporter of the study during the committee’s last meeting of the session.

“The state’s got to get its foot off the throat of the counties to broaden their tax base or there’s not going to be any meaningful tax relief,” Mehlhaff said.

Photo of the Brown County office building, which is connected to the Brown County courthouse and jail.
The Brown County offices are located in Aberdeen and are connected to the Brown County Courthouse, Sheriff’s Office and jail. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron and former Beadle County commissioner, and Deibert, who is on the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners Executive Board, will serve as the study’s chair and vice chair, respectively.

Why didn’t child care make the cut?

Schoenbeck met with several community and business leaders across South Dakota earlier this year with Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree, R-Madison. In a majority of those meetings, the number one issue leaders discussed was day care.

“I would say half of the time there was spent discussing day care,” Schoenbeck said.

The issue has been widely covered by state and national media, and it gained attention during Gov. Kristi Noem’s reelection campaign. But very little legislation was introduced during the session on the topic.

Sen. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, said he will head up an informal task force on child care. He’ll gather a small group of legislators with stakeholders such as economic development professionals and child care industry workers to discuss the issue.

Read more: How South Dakotans are making child care affordable and available

Sen. Tim Reed, R-Brookings (Makenzie Huber, South Dakota Searchlight)
Sen. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, during the 2023 legislative session. (Makenzie Huber, South Dakota Searchlight)

Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, suggested during the board meeting that the state should supplement child care with government funds.

But House Speaker and Executive Board Chair Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, is hopeful the informal group will help break the issue down into manageable pieces for the Legislature to tackle later on.

“There’s no consensus in the day care industry on how to solve it other than more money,” Bartels said. “It’s hard to do a summer study like that because it’s such a broad deal to narrow down.”

The task force will not be as structured, resourced or publicized as the summer studies — and recommendations from the task force will not carry as much weight as recommendations made by a summer study. But Reed is hopeful the group will be effective. 

Reed emphasized that the study will not focus on subsidizing or expanding public education to pre-kindergarten.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to knows that we have to take a look at child care,” Reed said. “We’re talking about child care just to make sure there are opportunities for working parents.”

The Executive Board’s next meeting will be held on April 20 to appoint legislative members to interim study committees.

Update: This story was updated to more accurately reflect Senators’ roles in recommending the county government summer study.




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Makenzie Huber
Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber is a lifelong South Dakotan whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent five years as a journalist with experience reporting on workforce, development and business issues within the state.